A taste of Japan direct to your kitchen

By PA/TPN, in Food and Drink · 12-09-2019 17:33:00 · 0 Comments

As YO! switches out its statement conveyor belt at its new, upcoming London concept restaurant, Ella Walker visits Tokyo - the brand's inspiration.

"Just eat," says our sushi master jovially, plating up individually hand-formed bites of sushi rice draped in bright, fleshy pieces of tuna, before following up more severely with a strict shake of his head: "No soy sauce." He even moves the beautifully crafted wooden pot of the umami stuff out of reach.

It turns out, adding more soy sauce to sushi - particularly when the grains of rice have already been respectfully soy-daubed with a delicate brush - is the equivalent of rudely squirting ketchup unceremoniously all over your dinner.

Our translator Karin explains that Tokyo might be famous for soy sauce, but "you only need a little bit, it's borderline offensive to pour loads on a plate".

You just don't do it - and don't even think about asking for more wasabi, no matter how vibrant and bobbly the fresh root is, no matter how much heat you think you can handle.

So, with each new morsel that appears on the tulip-red counter at the dimly-lit Seamon Ginza, during our 20-course omakase (which translates as 'I'll leave it up to you'), we tell our chef: "Oishi" (delicious), to keep him on side.

I'm in Japan with YO! Sushi who, famed as they are for their food-topped conveyor belt, are gearing up to launch their first non-belt, full-service restaurant, YO! Kitchen White City in September.

Tokyo provided the initial inspiration for the brand's founder Simon Woodroffe, and remains an endless source of menu ideas for group executive chef Mike Lewis. And so, in honour of the new concept, Lewis is leading me on a three-day eating tour of the city, to experience Japan's food culture, and feel old collide with new.

I quickly learn that in Tokyo, having dinner is also an exercise in exploring the culinary edges of tradition, etiquette and technology.

We make the dynastic leap from the intricate, almost solemn and highly personal omakase at Seamon Ginza (soy sauce reprimands included), to lunch the next day at modern kaiten (conveyor belt sushi) chain Hamazushi, ordering via screen. The restaurant's track technology sees 100-yen bites whizz to you directly, rapidly, freshly made and accompanied by a jingle; no human interaction needed. It's as charming and futuristic as the slightly dim robot waiter in the foyer.

The question of reverence versus modern efficiency rumbles beneath every edible encounter: I leave a gentle, sacred and perfectly timed tea ceremony at Hotel Chinzano Tokyo, where we slurped bitter matcha green tea from ornate bowls, to be greeted by boxy vending machines that uniformly line the streets like mechanical wallflowers, swallowing yen in exchange for cold sweet green tea in futuristic bottles. Both are as ingrained in the city's fabric as the ginkgo trees are in the pavements - Karin tells me their nuts are scavenged, skewered and grilled until soft and burnished. They stick to the roof of your mouth like too much peanut butter.

And when you're not sliding from the traditional straight into the modern, Tokyo just goes and melds the two.

It's the level of detail and care applied to everything that strikes you repeatedly, whatever and wherever you're eating in Tokyo. Be it sashimi from a conveyor belt or a man's masterful hands, ramen via slot machine and skewers off a charcoal grill from a hole in the wall, to the 'tastiness, happiness, peacefulness' promised on the seaweed-flavoured rice crackers eaten on the flight over, before your Tokyo adventure has even properly begun.

Sticky BBQ Yakitori chicken

The Japanese seriously know their way around a grill - and yakitori chicken is an absolute staple dish in traditional izikayas (Japanese pubs). This version should impress your BBQ guests...

Ingredients:

(Serves 2)

1 packet of YO! Sticky BBQ Yakitori Sauce

800g skinless & boneless chicken thigh cut into chunks

2 red onions cut into wedges

1 red pepper cut into chunks

1 green pepper cut into chunks

Method:

1. Pre heat oven to 200C/180C fan assisted or gas mark 6.

2. Remove any fat from the chicken thighs and cut into 1-inch chunks.

3. Slice the red onion into wedges.

4. Deseed both red and green peppers and cut into chunks.

5. Thread chicken and vegetable pieces alternately onto your skewers.

6. Generously brush half of YO!'s Sticky BBQ Yakitori over the skewers.

7. Place skewers onto a baking tray and place into the oven for 25 minutes, turn after 10 minutes and brush the remaining sauce over skewers to serve. Alternatively, the skewers can be placed onto the BBQ turning regularly, whilst generously brushing with sauce for an even cook.

8. Serve with a summer salad, buttery corn on the cobs and crisp toasted pitta breads.

Yakisoba Noodles

Can you ever have too many stir-fry ideas up your culinary sleeve? This super-speedy dinner will quickly feed a crowd if you increase the quantities - and you can sub in whatever veg you already have in the fridge too.

Ingredients:

(Serves 2)

1 packet of YO! Soy, Ginger & Garlic Yakisoba Sauce

1tbsp of vegetable oil

300g of stir-fry ready-to-eat vegan noodles

1 pak choi peeled

1 carrot cut into thick strips

1 red pepper cut into strips

50g of bean sprouts

1 spring onion finely chopped

1 red onion sliced

Method:

1. Heat the oil in a wok and add the chopped vegetables, stir-fry for three minutes.

2. Add the noodles and heat through following packet instructions.

3. Add the packet of sauce to the wok, toss and stir-fry for two minutes and serve straight away.

Salmon teriyaki

Thickly coated teriyaki salmon on seasonal vegetables with rice or couscous is the ultimate date-night meal...

Ingredients:

(Serves 2)

1 packet of YO! Sweet & Sticky Teriyaki Sauce

2 responsibly sourced salmon fillets

2 small red onions, cut into wedges

2 spring onions, sliced

1 pak choi, peeled

Sesame seeds (optional)

Method:

1. Pre heat oven to 200C/180C fan assisted or gas mark 6.

2. Roughly chop the red onions, trim of spring onion roots and chop roughly and peel the leaves of the pak choi.

3. Half the vegetables and add to the middle of a roasting tin on grease-proof paper. Add one salmon fillet on top of the vegetables and crinkle the sides of the paper to keep in all the juices. Repeat with the second salmon fillet.

4. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 17 minutes.

5. Take out of the oven and thickly coat the salmon in Sweet & Sticky Teriyaki sauce and cook for another three minutes.

5. Remove from the oven and serve on rice or couscous, and sprinkle mixed sesame seeds on top for that extra crunch.


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